October 10, 2008

N. Korea Plans to Restart N-Facility

By George Jah n Associated Press

VIENNA, Austria -- North Korea moved closer Thursday to relaunching its nuclear arms program, announcing that it wants to reactivate the facility that produced its atomic bomb and banning U.N. inspectors from the site.

The U.S. said the moves did not mean the death of international efforts to persuade the North to recommit to an agreement that offers it diplomatic and economic concessions in exchange for nuclear disarmament.

Despite the gloomy implications of North Korea's moves, they could be a negotiating ploy: The year needed to start its reprocessing plant could be used to wrest more concessions from the regime's interlocutors.

John Bolton, who has served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and U.S. undersecretary of state in charge of the North Korean nuclear dossier, suggested the North's tactics were working.

Bolton, a critic of what he considers U.S. leniency with North Korea who remains well-connected with senior Bush administration officials, told The Associated Press that Washington was planning to meet the communist country's key demand "within a week" by removing it from a State Department list of nations that sponsor terrorism.

That would be a significant move because the disarmament deal is bogged down over U.S. refusal to do just that until the North accepts a plan for verifying a list of nuclear assets that it submitted to its negotiating partners.

It was unclear whether the U.S. would settle for less than the full accounting it had asked for before the North walked away from the talks.

White House press secretary Dana Perino said a nuclear disarmament verification protocol remained essential to taking North Korea off the terrorism list.

She added, however, "If we can get a verification protocol that we are satisfied with, then we would be able to fulfill our side of the bargain."

North Korea stopped disabling its nuclear facilities last summer, around the time leader Kim Jong Il reportedly suffered a stroke and had brain surgery. North Korea denies that Kim is ill, but the regime's abandonment of the carefully crafted disarmament deal has led to speculation that the hardline military is pulling the strings.

However, just Saturday the North's state media reported that Kim had attended a university soccer match in what appeared to be his first public appearance in nearly two months. U.S. military officials have said they have detected no sign that the leader has been disabled or lost his grip on power.

The nuclear plans of the reclusive communist nation were revealed by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The North had already banned IAEA inspectors from the reprocessing plant last month after demanding they remove agency seals from the facility.

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